Posts Tagged ‘Washington Post’

Age Is Just a Number: Luke Appling and the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic

Sunday, April 23rd, 2017

It was a moment of nostalgia, surprise, and joy.  More than 30 years after hanging up his spikes, Luke Appling went yard at the age of 75 in the 1982 Cracker Jack Old Timers Baseball Classic at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.

Far from a power hitter, Luke Appling bashed 45 home runs in his career, which was one of, as Wee Willie Keeler said, hitting them where they ain’t.  Appling fell shy of the magic mark of 3,000 hits, ending his career with 2,749 hits, including:

  • 440 doubles
  • 102 triples

He played his entire career in a White Sox uniform—1930 to 1950.

The Cracker Jack game was a shot of adrenaline to baseball fans suffering the psychic wounds created by the previous year’s strike, which shortened the 1981 baseball season.  Appling’s home run off Warren Spahn washed away, if only for a jiffy, the festering stench of despair felt across the fan spectrum, from Tee-ball players first learning the basics to senior citizens reminiscing about ballparks that no longer exist.

Appling was the oldest player in the Cracker Jack game, which ended with the American League beating the National League 7-2.

Nearly 30,000 fans poured into RFK on July 19, 1982 to watch baseball’s heroes of days gone by.  Though the ex-players wore the uniforms so familiar to baseball fans, their appearances showed the slights of age.  A little grayer.  A touch heavier.  A bit slower.  None of that mattered.  Old Timers games are affairs of the heart.  Baseball is, after all, a sentimental game, at once wistful and exciting.

Appling’s homer punctuated the pleasure at seeing a game where icons, though far from their prime, can recapture the feeling that anything is possible.

Bobby Thomson proved it when he knocked a Ralph Branch pitch over the left field fence at the Polo Grounds to win the 1951 National League pennant for the New York Giants.

The 1969 Mets proved it when they beat the favored Baltimore Orioles to win the World Series.

Cal Ripken, Jr. proved it when he broke Lou Gehrig’s streak of consecutive games played.

A .310 career hitter, Appling suffered injuries that came faster than a street hustler moving the cards in Three Card Monte.  “Old Aches and Pains” became his moniker.  Inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964, Appling’s career achievements were:

  • 528 strikeouts
  • 1,302 walks
  • .399 On-base percentage
  • Led major leagues with a .388 batting average in 1936 (Lou Gehrig eclipsed Appling in the voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award)
  • Led American League with a .328 batting average and a .419 On-base percentage in 1943

On the morning of the Cracker Jack game, in a harbinger of the home run, an Appling quote appeared in Denis Collins’s article “Old Timers:  Memories Are as Strong as Ever” for the Washington Post:  “I can still slap the ball around here and there.”

Indeed.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on October 20, 2016.

The Burning of Boundary Field

Saturday, April 1st, 2017

Not since British troops burned the White House during the War of 1812 had the environs of the nation’s capital endured a conflagration triggering a plummet in morale.  On March 17, 1911, a fire tore through the Washington Nationals’ ballpark, also known as Boundary Field  “It is well, however, to be optimistic,” stated an editorial in the Washington Post.  “It is this quality that has distinguished Washington ‘fans’ from the rest of the universe.  Others may lose hope and be cast down, but the Washington ‘fans’ never.”

Plumbers left a blow lamp “in an exposed place,” according to the Post.  An estimated $20,000 in damage resulted from the blaze.  A lumber company and land owned by Howard University sustained damage estimated at $20,000 and $2,000, respectively.

With the season starting in just a few weeks, Washington’s baseball brain trust had to consider viable options if the stadium could not be fixed in time for Opening Day.  It was a logistical nightmare involving the balance of practicality, insurance money, and promises from contractors.

An idea to move the Nationals-Red Sox Opening Day game from Washington to Boston received quick dismissal from the hierarchy belonging to the Boston Braves.  “It would be out of the question for us to consent to the Washington American league [sic] opening being transferred to Boston, because we also open on that date,” said L. Coues Page in an article for the Boston Globe.  “All opening games are considered plums, and it would be contrary to the national agreement of baseball clubs for such a thing to happen.”

Logically, the Braves would not submit.  “It would be a poor business proposition for us, and I personally don’t believe such a thing could be don without violating the peace clause of the national agreement,” continued Page.

Lack of firefighting infrastructure jeopardized the ballpark.  “The fire was one of the hardest to combat in the history of the local department,” reported the Post.  “That Washington needs a high-pressure water system was clearly demonstrated, say the firemen.  There are but four fire plugs within the immediate vicinity of the ball park, and it was with great difficulty that the engines stationed at a distance threw water on the burning structures.”

Repair efforts proved successful.  Washington hosted Boston for the Opening Day game, which ended in an 8-5 victory for the home team.

1911 was not a great year for the Senators.  It was not even a good one.  Their 64-90 record put them in seventh place in the American League.  Walter Johnson, as was his won’t, put up terrific figures belying the team’s mediocrity:

  • 25-13 win-loss record
  • 1.90 ERA
  • Six shutouts
  • 36 complete games
  • 207 strikeouts
  • Led American League in shutouts
  • Led major leagues in complete games

Clyde Milan, Washington’s center fielder, led the American League in:

  • Plate appearances (705)
  • At bats (616)
  • Games played (154)

Additionally, he ratcheted 148 hits for a .315 batting average, his career high.  In the following two seasons the fleet-footed Milan led the major leagues in stolen bases:

  • 88 stolen bases in 1912
  • 75 stolen bases in 1913

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on June 5, 2016.

Kevin Kline, Dave Kovic, and President William Harrison Mitchell

Wednesday, March 15th, 2017

When Ronald Reagan pursued the presidency, Jack Warner, his former boss, said, “No, Jimmy Stewart for President. Ronald Reagan for best friend.”  This story may be apocryphal a combination of political and Hollywood lore.

Reagan, the nation’s 40th president, stands at the crossroads of politics and show business as the ultimate example of the nexus between the two.  After an acting career that lasted nearly 30 years working for Warner and other studio heads, Reagan ran for Governor of California twice and won both times—1966 and 1970.  During the Reagan presidency in the 1980s, the actor-turned-politico reportedly said, “How can a president not be an actor?”

Such is the quandary of Dave Kovic, an impersonator of President William Harrison Mitchell in the 1993 movie Dave; Kevin Kline plays the title character.

After a speech at the Monroe Hotel, the president engages in a tryst with his secretary in a hotel room while Dave—also played by Kevin Kline—substitutes for him in the lobby, waving to people as he exits.  Mitchell’s staff procured Dave’s services after learning of a promotional appearance as the president at a car dealership.  Presidential impersonation is a side business to Dave’s job—running a temporary employee agency.

When President Mitchell suffers a stroke in flagrante delicto, Chief of Staff Bob Alexander and White House Media Advisor Alan Reed persuade Dave to continue impersonating the president, who lies in intensive care several feet below the White House in a super-secure area.  An appearance at Camden Yards appears in a montage of scenes showing the “new” President Mitchell rebounding from his stroke with positive energy.

Kline filmed Dave during 1992, a presidential election year that brought George Herbert Walker Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and Henry Ross Perot into the campaign arena where they were marred by blood, sweat, and late night television comedy.  “I really tried to avoid doing George Bush,” said Kline in an interview with Susan Lehman of the Washington Post.  “If I had, it would have put us in the realm of impersonation or parody.  And rather than do a parody of any conservative president of the last 12 years, I tried to understand the psychology of a guy whose popularity polls had hit bottom, who no longer enjoyed his job, who had bought into the whole public polling, image-creating aspect of his job and had lost touch with who he was.  You know, at one time, he may have had the best intentions when he entered politics, but ultimately it got the best of him.”

There is no designation of a political party in the movie.

Before an Orioles-Tigers game on August 3, 1992, Kline filmed the scene of him throwing out the first ball.  Baltimore’s birds won the game 6-3.  Storm Davis restricted the Tigers to no hits during his 2 1/3 innings of hurling.  Orioles first baseman Glenn Davis knocked a two-run home run in the fifth inning.

Storm and Glenn were not brothers—pretty close, though.  Storm’s family adopted Glenn, for all intents and purposes—though not formally—when the boys played baseball at Jacksonville’s University Christian High School.  Glenn Davis’s parents divorced just about when he was learning to walk, leaving the Davis matriarch struggling to raise three children on her own.

This difficult home situation made Storm’s family life a paradigm of structure, safety, and belonging.  “Glenn started coming over to the house his sophomore year, sometimes staying for dinner,” wrote Molly Dunham and Mike Klingaman in a 1991 article for the Baltimore Sun.  “He lived on the north side of Jacksonville; Storm’s family lived on the south side, about 15 miles away.  Sometimes Glenn took the bus.  He never really said how he got there other times.”

In his 13-year major league career (1982-1994), Storm Davis played for Baltimore, San Diego, Oakland, Kansas City, and Detroit; Davis’s career win-loss record is 113-96.  Glenn Davis played for two teams—Houston and Baltimore—in his 10-year major league career (1984-1993), compiling 965 hits, 190 home runs, and a .259 batting average.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on April 1, 2016.

A Capital Forfeit

Wednesday, February 1st, 2017

Washington, D.C. is a city often laced with discord, evidence by the combative nature of politics.  Baseball, too, is combative, but rarely on the level witnessed on September 30, 1971.

In the last game of the second incarnation of the Washington Senators, a melee erupted when the fan base, despite seeing the Senators leading the New York Yankees 7-5, manifested its displeasure at the team’s imminent transition to the Lone Star State and a new moniker—Texas Rangers.

It happened with one out remaining.  “The last out never came because the more frustrated spectators among the farewell crowd of 14,460, their emotions at a high pitch at the though of losing their team to Texas, swarmed onto the field,” wrote George Minot Jr. of the Washington Post.  “The souvenir hunters among them ripped up the bases and tore a few numbers from the scoreboard but, generally, the fans were well-behaved.”

Although the umpires declared a Senators forfeit, thereby awarding the Yankees a victory, the game’s records counted—excepting the affirmation of a winning and a losing pitcher because the Yankees trailed the Senators when forfeiture became official.  Thomas Rogers of the New York Times explained, “The umpires waited about three minutes while the mob tore out the bases and attacked the right-field scoreboard for souvenirs [sic].  Most of the light bulbs in the board were removed.

“As a crowd of several thousand stood shouting on the pitcher’s mound, the public address system announced said: ‘This game has been forfeited to New York.'”

Noting the intangible impact, or lack thereof, Minot cited Senators skipper Ted Williams, who expressed, “One more loss won’t affect our overall performance this year.”  Indeed, the Senators finished the ’71 season with a 63-96 record.  Washingtonians showcased decency toward the players, reserving their outrage for owner Robert Short, who spearheaded the move to Texas.  Legendary sports writer Shirley Povich of the Post wrote, “Those who were savoring this last, fond look at the Senators let it be known by their cheers that they absolved the athletes of all blame in the messy machinations that rooked the city of its major-league status.  Even the .190 hitters heard the hearty farewells, and in the case of big Frank Howard it was thunderous when he came to the plate.”

Moving a major league team was neither a new idea nor a shocking one by the time Short decided to uproot from the nation’s capital.  Boston, Philadelphia, and Milwaukee had lost teams; New York City lost two when the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants left for California after the 1957 season.

Washington completed its unfinished business in 2006, when the Yankees played their first game in the District of Columbia since the forfeit.  President George W. Bush threw out the first pitch with the same ball that the disturbance prevented Senators pitcher Joe Grzenda from using to pitch to Horace Clarke.  Richard Sandomir of the Times noted that the ball had been “preserved in an envelope inside a drawer in Grzenda’s house.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 15, 2016.

The First Fan

Thursday, January 26th, 2017

William Howard Taft invented—unintentionally—the seventh inning stretch, Franklin Delano Roosevelt urged Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to continue Major League Baseball during World War II, and George W. Bush skyrocketed American morale after the 9/11 attacks when he threw out the first pitch of the 2001 World Series.

Baseball pulsates through the presidency, indeed, whether it’s Ronald Reagan sitting in the dugout of an Orioles game or Harry Truman being the first president to attend a night game.

It all started with Benjamin Harrison in 1892.

On the eve of the Republican National Convention—which took place in Minneapolis from June 7-10, 1892—Harrison churned through his presidential duties, despite tension surrounding the possibility of not being selected to represent the party in the upcoming election.  The Washington Post reported, “If the President was worried about the turn of affairs at Minneapolis he failed to let that worriment be detected by any one who conversed with him.  Secretary [of Agriculture] Rusk, upon leaving the White House, said that Mr. Harrison was not at all disturbed by the rumors that had emanated from the convention city but was, on the contrary, in the best of spirits and had spent a very pleasant day.”

After an inquiry by [Secretary of State John] Foster about attending the Cincinnati-Washington baseball game at Boundary Field, President Harrison acquiesced.  Foster’s baseball fandom manifested in restlessness—the Cabinet member “paced up and down the big stone port of the White House, now and then glancing at his watch, fearful that he would be too late to see the first game,” reported the Post.  The Reds beat the Senators 7-4.

It was the first presidential visit to a major league game.

Harrison lost the 1892 presidential election to Grover Cleveland.  Had the political winds shifted in the Democratic Party, Harrison might have faced a baseball fan—Senator David B. Hill of New York ran for the nomination.  A Post profile of Hill on June 5, 1892 described the senator’s nighttime activities as a combination of work and play.  “Night is Hill’s favorite time for work, and he manages to do considerable after he is through with callers.  That is the general programme [sic] of the New York Senator’s days.  He varies them by going to the theater, of which he is more than fond, and he has patronized the Washington theaters continually.  Then he is a baseball crank, it must be confessed, and finds time to get out to hurrah for the diamond kings very often.”

When Cleveland resigned his post as New York Governor, Hill, a former New York governor, earned the ire of some quarters for holding dual offices. On April 7, 1892, the New York Times declared, “He showed a contempt for common decency in holding the office of Governor for ten months after his term in the Senate began, and he left his seat in that body vacant for more than a month after the season of Congress opened.  He used that time in carrying out the infamous scheme for stealing a majority in the State Senate, and afterward secured the elevation of his most subservient and useful tool in the performance to the bench of the Court of Appeals, thus putting a dark stain upon the judiciary of the State.  Since he took his oath as Senator he has hardly spent two consecutive days in the Senate, and has taken no useful part in any of its proceedings.  He showed himself intent only upon selfish political schemes of his own.  He tried to bully a committee of the House into making a report favorable to retaining one of his devoted henchmen in the seat to which he was plainly not entitled.  Then he went off on a trip to the South, the sole object of which was to drum up delegates for himself to the Democratic National Convention.  That hunt was a dismal failure and only resulted in exposing to the Southern people his lack of principle and courage and turning them against him.”

Harrison’s presidency included appointing four justices of the United States Supreme Court, admitting six states to the union, and codifying the Sherman Anti-Trust Act and the Land Revision Act.  While Harrison’s ignition of presidential attendance at professional baseball games began a ballpark tradition, the sports world enjoyed other landmark events in 1892, including the playing of the first basketball game, the founding of the Liverpool Football Club, and the creating of the Stanley Cup—thanks to a proposal by Lord Stanley of Preston.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on January 7, 2016.

Ted Williams Hits His Final Home Run

Sunday, January 15th, 2017

When a lanky native of San Diego hit a home run on September 28, 1960, it was not, perhaps, the most significant happening in his career—and certainly not the most significant happening in world affairs during the ninth month of the 60th year of the 20th century.

Ted Williams won two MVP Awards, the Triple Crown, and The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award seven times.  His career statistics include 521 home runs, .344 batting average, and .634 slugging percentage.  On that late September day, for the last time, Williams donned his Red Sox uniform, heard the cheers from the Fenway Park denizens, and went yard in his last at bat in the major leagues.

Legendary sportswriter Shirley Povich of the Washington Post noted that the excellence of the Red Sox slugger negated any revelatory aspects of the milestone.  “It shouldn’t have been surprising.  Williams has been making a commonplace of the dramatic homer ever since he came into the majors,” wrote Povich.

Still, an emotional charge laced the moment as Williams placed a period at the end of a 22-year career, all in a Red Sox uniform.  Nicknamed “The Splendid Splinter” for his batting prowess, Williams understood the impact of the home run.  “The first thing he did after the game was to send the home run bat to Tom Yawkey upstairs by bat boy Bobby Sullivan.  Then he hung around and soaked up praise and adulation, the admiring glances of those who would not approach, the warmth of a winning clubhouse—as he never would again,” wrote Harold Kaese in the Boston Globe.

Nonetheless, Williams did not tip his hat to the crowd.

About three weeks after Williams’s last game, The New Yorker published John Updike’s account in its October 22, 1960 issue; “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” stands as a model of baseball writing.  It is an honest appraisal of the dynamic fostered in the Red Sox legend’s adopted city.  Updike wrote, “The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing of shared memories.”

Additionally, an unparalleled work ethic, according to Updike, set Williams apart from his peers.  “No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy,” opined Updike.

Invoking the theory of ceteris paribus—all things being equal—Williams’s home run might have been in the 600s rather than the 500s had he not served his country during World War II.  A hero for his service as a pilot, Williams did not play professional baseball from 1943 to 1945, losing three years in his prime.  When Williams returned in 1946, he showed no signs of slowing down—MVP Award, .342 batting average, and 123 RBI.  Additionally, he led the major leagues in walks (156), slugging percentage (.667), on-base percentage (.497), and runs scored (142).

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on December 16, 2015.

Bay City Blues

Monday, January 9th, 2017

Five years before Ron Shelton turned his script for Bull Durham into his directorial dbut, NBC aired Bay City Blues, which introduced millions of people to the pleasures, idiosyncrasies, and slightly desperate aura surrounding the minor leagues.  NBC’s prime time lineup began the 1983-84 television season with several shows that looked promising, but quickly fell to cancellation, e.g., BooneMr. SmithManimal.  As well, Bay City Blues struck out.

NBC brought Bay City Blues to prime time in the wake of an abundance of critical acclaim surrounding its groundbreaking police drama Hill Street Blues and medical drama St. Elsewhereboth produced by MTM Enterprises.  Television critic Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “‘Bay City Blues’ applies the ‘Hill Street’ formulaan ensemble cast of eccentric characters bouncing their troubles off a firm but sensitive and understanding father figureto a new set of engaging circumstances.”

Bay City Blues revolved around the Bay City Bluebirds, a Double-A team in northern California.  Steven Bochco and Jeffrey Lewis created the show; Hill Street Blues was another Bochco co-creation, hence the parallel described by Rosenberg and other critics.  With the minor leagues serving as a limbo of dreams from which the Bluebirds seek a reprieve, Bay City Blues showcased future stars:  Sharon Stone’s legs launched a thousand sexual fantasies in Basic Instinct; Ken Olin represented the angst of baby boomers in thirtysomething; Michele Green transitioned from mousy to mighty as an attorney in L.A. Law; Mykelti Williamson befriended Tom Hanks as Bubba and Forrest respectively, in Forrest Gump; and Michael Nouri built an outstanding career as a character actor.

In New York magazine, John Leonard wrote, “When Bay City roots for its Bluebirds, it is rooting for youth and heroism, the lucky break, a last chance, grace under pressure, justice, and nostalgia.  Baseball, at least for the man-child in this promised land, is so American Dreamy because it’s so helplessly nostalgic.  Before we die, we want to steal second base.  This game, in theory, could go on forever.”

Fantasies of a better life comprise a cornerstone of the minor leagues portrayed in popular culture.  Cecil “Stud” Cantrell mourns the lost opportunity to compete with Stan Musial for a spot on the Cardinals when he suffered in injuries in World War II preventing him from going further than the Tampico Stogies in the novel Long Gone and the eponymous tv-movie.  Crash Davis embodies grace at home plate while he mentors a deeply talented but crucially ignorant pitcher pitcher in Bull Durham.  Hal Hinson of the Washington Post wrote, “What [Bull Durham] has is flavor, reality, a sense that the game is played by actual people, boys mostly, and not heroes.”  Pastime explored a similar mentor-mentee paradigm.

Built in the San Fernando Valley for Bay City Blues, Bluebird Field also appeared in the 1985 movie Brewster’s Millions.  In 1989, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power tore down the field, which also served Mission College and Village Christian High School.

NBC dropped Bay City Blues from its prime time lineup after four episodes aired.

A version of this article appeared on wwwthesportspost.com on November 15, 2015.

Monty Stratton, Jimmy Stewart, and Hollywood

Saturday, January 7th, 2017

When The Stratton Story premiered in 1949, movie audiences without even a tangential interest in baseball became engrossed in the story of a champion whose determination serves as a model of courage.  Monty Stratton played a key role on the pitching staff of the Chicago White Sox during his brief major league career in the 1930s, but win-loss records cannot measure his contribution to baseball.  After a hunting accident led to a leg amputation, Stratton emerged from physical, emotional, and mental horrors; it was a stunning comeback.

On November 27, 1938, Stratton injured himself while hunting for rabbits on his mother’s farm, close to Greenville, Texas.  Associated Press reported that Stratton’s pistol discharged accidentally, sending a bullet into his right leg.  It severed an artery, necessitating the amputation.  Consequently, the White Sox organization presented an opportunity for lifetime employment.  Team President J. Louis Comiskey said, “Monty as a job with us as long as he wants it.  He was a fine pitcher and is a finer man.  Baseball can’t afford to lose him.”  A benefit Cubs-White Sox game raised money for the Stratton family.

Already familiar with teary subject matter in a baseball setting from directing the Lou Gehrig biopic Pride of the Yankees, Sam Wood helmed The Stratton Story.  Starring Jimmy Stewart in the title role and June Allyson as Stratton’s wife, Ethel, the movie received acclaim for its portrayal of Monty Stratton’s seemingly impossible rebound to the baseball diamond after the accident deflates his spirit, dimming a once shining career to darkness.  Stratton’s promise evidences early in the movie, when baseball scout Barney Wile tells Stratton’s mother, “He can transform a baseball into a streak of gray lightning and curve it in like it was weaving through traffic.”  Frank Morgan played Wile and Agnes Moorehead played Mrs. Stratton.

AP’s April 15, 1939 story “Stratton, Coach, Is Hopeful of Pitching Again” cited the hurler’s insistence on returning to baseball.  “It will take time, because I’ve got to learn pitching from the mound all over again,” declared Stratton, who reached his goal in 1946 with an 18-8 record with the Sherman Twins.  He played in the minor leagues sporadically between 1947 and 1950, never in more than four games each season.  Appropriately, his last team was the Greenville Majors.

The Stratton Story hit movie theaters during Monty Stratton’s comeback, making it current in addition to poignant.  With the All-American Stewart and Allyson in the starring roles, the movie generated mainstream appeal for filmgoers neither knowledgeable about nor interested in the National Pastime.  It is, after all, a story based on overcoming adversity, a universal plight.  Therefore, it is a familiar story, even if baseball specifics are mysterious to the audience.

Los Angeles Times sports columnist Braves Dyer praised, “Jimmy Stewart, as always, does a superb job and actually looks and acts like a baseball player, which he isn’t.”  In the New York Herald Tribune, Howard Barnes’s review of Stewart paralleled Dyer’s.  “Thanks to his engaging and artful performance, a sentimental and inspirational screen biography has more than a little power,” wrote Barnes.

In the Washington Post, movie critic Richard L. Coe addressed the story’s emotional impact:  “Jimmy Stewart plays him with his adroitly winning style, and you’ll admire the way both writers and Director Sam Wood have managed the sentiment without wallowing in it.”  Hollywood gossip columnist Hedda Hopper similarly lauded the direction:  “Sam Wood steered it away from the saccharine morass into which it could have fallen.”

Legendary sports writer Red Smith opined, “As viewed by a sentimentalist who can still weep over practically any page of ‘Little Women,’ it is a solid tear-jerker effectively performed by James Stewart and June Allyson, which commits no outrages when it deals with technical baseball.”  Barnes agreed regarding the representation of baseball details.  “Since the script by Douglas Morrow and Guy Trosper has some good pungent talk of the kind that might be expected from big leaguers, and Sam Wood’s direction is resourceful, the work should appeal to payment as well as ardent baseball fans,” wrote Barnes.

Stratton approved of Stewart’s portrayal.  In a “Special to the Herald Tribune,” Stratton recounted, “He was our first choice—my wife’s and mine—when we first heard about the picture.  But we really didn’t expect Hollywood to see it the same as us.”

To research Stratton’s amazing tale, Douglas Morrow, co-writer of the screenplay, ventured to Greenville, Texas.  In a scene reflecting a real-life incident, Stratton practices pitching with Ethel.  “Slowly, imperceptibly, he was developing a pitching technique,” wrote Morrow in “Standing On Top Of The World,” an article in the June 12, 1949 edition of the Los Angeles Times.  “So gradual was it that neither Monty nor Ethel realized that he had regained much of his former speed.  That is, not until he whipped a fast ball through one day that boomed into Ethel’s mitt and bowled her back on her seat.  With swollen hands and a bruised rear end.  Ethel beat a strategic retreat and Monty began pitching against the barn wall with his four-year-old son, Monty Jr., and his dog, Happy, retrieving the balls.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 2, 2015.

The Tragedy of Edgar McNabb

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

A murder-suicide in a Pittsburgh hotel on Valentine’s Day in 1894 firmly occupies a place on the roster of baseball’s tragedies.  It was the fatal result of a love affair between a major league pitcher and a baseball mogul’s wife.

Edgar McNabb pitched for he 1893 Baltimore Orioles, a team that boasted future Hall of Famers John McGraw and Wilbert Robinson.  It was McNabb’s only season in the major leagues, a capstone to a journeyman’s career in the minor leagues.  During his minor league exploits, McNabb met Louise Kellogg, the wife of W. E. Rockwell, who happened to be the Pacific Northwest Baseball League’s president.  In 1891 and for part of 1892, McNabb pitched for the league’s Portland ball club, the Webfeet.  He finished the 1892 season with the Los Angeles Seraphs of the California League.

The article “The Wages of Sin” in the March 5, 1894 edition of the Los Angeles Times details the McNabb-Kellogg relationship, citing a San Francisco Bulletin article as its source:  “Like many other American women, Mrs. Rockwell had little else to do except dress well and amuse herself, and she was a constant attendant at the baseball games, where she met the pitcher.  The Two soon became very intimate, and it was an open secret among he players that the affection of the two for one another was not purely platonic.

“Whenever his team was in Seattle, McNabb and the woman were always together, and when the team visited Spokane, the pitcher was always finding excuses to visit the city where Mrs. Rockwell lived.”

It was not a secret relationship.  Kellogg shed her familial obligations to be with McNabb when the pitcher got the job with the Seraphs.  The Bulletin article revealed, “At the same time Mrs. Rockwell left her husband and child and accompanied her lover from the pine frosts of Washington to the orange groves of California.  The two lived together as man and wife, although their relations were well known to their intimate acquaintances”

Kellogg was a stage performer, finding herself in Pittsburgh to perform at the Wigwam Theater and registering with McNabb at the Hotel Eiffel as husband and wife.  The article “End of a Guilty Love” in the March 1, 1894 edition of the Washington Post hypothesizes that a broken heart ignited McNabb’s fury:  “A number of letters belonging to Miss Kellogg showed that she had been keeping McNabb supplied with money the past few months.

“The company she was with disbanded some time ago, and she came here with the probably intention of either staying with her parents in Braddock, or getting money to tide her over until she procured another engagement.

“McNabb met her here, and as the woman was likely trying to break off her intimacy with him, this probably prompted McNabb to shoot the woman and himself.”

McNabb put three bullets into Kellogg, paralyzing her; Kellogg confirmed McNabb’s emotions as the source of the violence.  The article “Mrs. Rockwell Is Dying” in the March 2, 1894 edition of the Washington Post highlighted Kellogg’s condition:  “Mrs. Rockwell said to the nurse and attending physician that McNabb committed the deed because he was jealous of her, and thought she was in love with some other person.  She also said that if anything serious should happen she wanted the hospital authorities to send for her husband, W. E. Rockwell [sic], who is now in California.  It is believed that McNabb was afraid Mrs. Rockwell was contemplating returning to her husband, and it was for this reason that he determined to kill her and himself.”

Kellogg died in the early morning hours of March 2nd.

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on February 14, 2015.

Radio, Baseball, and the Gipper

Thursday, December 8th, 2016

Before he treated a chimpanzee named Bonzo like a child, pleaded the Notre Dame football team to win just one for the Gipper, and told Mr. Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, Ronald Reagan was a baseball announcer.

Reagan called baseball games for WOC in Davenport, Iowa.  Started by Robert Karlowa as an experimental station in 1907, WOC later fell under the aegis of Bartlett Joshua Palmer, a chiropractor following in his father’s pioneering footsteps in chiropractic healing.  The University of Iowa’s Biographical Diction of Iowa web site details B.J. Palmer’s radio endeavors:  “In 1922, he obtained a license to operate station WOC in Davenport— the call letters stood for “World of Chiropractic”— purportedly the second radio station licensed to broadcast in the United States.  That venture expanded in 1929 to include WHO in Des Moines, and was incorporated as the Central Broadcasting Company, an NBC affiliate.

“The first WOC broadcasts were made from the living room of the Palmer home at 828 Brady Street in Davenport.  Broadcasts included lectures, musical programs, and many other programs.  The main purpose of the radio station was to advertise the chiropractic school and clinic, and B.J. was remarkably successful at that.”

Reagan’s audition for WOC took place in 1932.  “He had to stand in front of a microphone in a studio and make up a game,” explained William Gildea in his 2004 article “Former President Had A Passion for Sports” in the Washington Post.  With extraordinary detail and excitement in his voice, he recounted much of the fourth quarter of a game in which he played for Eureka— only in his fictitious version, Eureka won a game it actually lost.”

Reagan became the voice of sports for WHO before he launched his movie career in Hollywood in 1937.  Announcing the Chicago Cubs games allowed Reagan to develop his oratorical gifts, which served him well as an actor and a politician.  Sometimes he broadcast games on site.  Gildea stated, “More often, though, he was tucked away in the studio, recreating the games, using his imagination to flesh out the minimal description of the action available to him from the dots and dashes sent from the ballpark by a telegraph operator to the telegraph operator sitting across from him.

The future president’s involvement with the National Pastime continued in Hollywood.  In the 1952 movie The Winning Team, Reagan portrayed baseball icon Grover Cleveland Alexander.  Co-starring Doris Day as Alexander’s wife Aimee, The Winning Team ends on the climactic note of Alexander’s performance in the 1926 World Series featuring the St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees.  It went seven games.  In the 7th inning of Game Seven, Alexander struck out Yankee powerhouse Tony Lazzeri to end the last viable Yankee threat.  Alexander kept the 8th and 9th innings scoreless, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 victory and the championship.  In a career spanning 1911 to 1930, Alexander compiled a 373-208 record, including four consecutive seasons of 30 or more wins.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation & Library web site cites a 1983 quote capturing Reagan’s passion for baseball:  “I really do love baseball and I wish we could do this out on the lawn every day.  I wouldn’t even complain if a stray ball came through the Oval Office window now and then.”

A version of this article appeared on www.thesportspost.com on November 15, 2014.